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Teenage hackers Jesse Dailey and Eric Twilegar are the heroes of Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho, a thoughtful, affecting pop ethnography--and heroes is exactly what Jon Katz wants you to see them as. To the rest of the world, themselves included, they are geeks, which is a complicated thing to be these days. With the rise of the networked economy, the world and its wealth have become increasingly dependent on the expertise of Star Wars-loving, cola-swilling propellerheads everywhere. Yet at the same time, the typical geek--especially the typical adolescent geek--remains a consummate outsider, with passions for technological arcana that are both alienating and empowering.
Katz, a writer for both Rolling Stone and the profoundly geeky Web site Slashdot.org, does a fine job of mapping this ambiguous new state of affairs (the Geek Ascendancy, he calls it). But the book's heart and soul is the well-told tale of Jesse and Eric's adventurous flight from lonely, dead-end lives in Idaho Mormon country to brighter possibilities in Chicago.
Katz argues that this great escape couldn't have happened without the networks (both social and technological) that are the lifeblood of '90s geekdom, but he doesn't let his celebratory argument get in the way of the story. Although he's a tireless advocate for geeks (the last chapters retrace his impassioned advocacy for brooding teenage weirdos in the face of post-Columbine media attacks), he presents their culture warts and all, with its tendencies toward social awkwardness and arrogance recognizably intact. He doesn't demand your sympathy for his heroes and their world--but he wins it anyway, by bringing them vividly and honestly to life. --Julian Dibbell [via]